FEATHERS flew yesterday over plans to protect the endangered hen harrier bird.
Environment Minister John Gormley announced six areas in the country where the hen harrier will be protected.
The so-called special areas of conservation mean that the birds cannot be interfered with during breeding, feeding, or roosting.
Farmers affected by the move are being offered special compensation.
However, a leading environmental organisation claimed the new protection zones would be inadequate to save the bird from extinction.
The proposed six protection zones are:
l Slieve Bloom Mountains in Laois and Offaly;
l Stack's to Mullaghareirk Mountains, West Limerick Hills and Mount Eagle in Cork, Kerry and Limerick;
l Beagh Co. Monaghan;
l Mullaghanish to Musheramore Mountains Co. Cork; l Slievefelim to Silvermines Mountains Limerick and Tipperary;
l Slieve Aughty Mountains, Clare and Galway.
The hen harrier is a medium-sized bird of prey, with a small breeding population of only 130-150 pairs in Ireland.
Mr Gormley said one of our obligations as an EU member State was to protect places important to birds.
The EU Birds Directive requires the designation of sites in each member state to protect birds at their breeding, feeding, roosting and wintering areas.
A total of 5,500 landowners in these sites will be individually notified.
Landowners who wish to object to the proposed designations will have until February 8, 2008, to do so.
However, the Friends of the Environment (FIE) group insisted yesterday that the proposed designations would not save the hen harrier.
FIE claimed the terms of reference were changed to exclude areas adjacent to the special areas of conservation, in spite of the EU Directive's requirements.
"Ireland already has the smallest amount of its area protected for birds of any European country," said FIE spokesman Tony Lowes. "This agreement will not save the hen harrier," he added.
Treacy Hogan Environment Correspondent